30 Day Travel Series: Julian Mic Checks the United Nations
Immediately the security formed a blockade and stood inches from Julian's face as he, sentence by sentence, began yelling about why we had all come there that day.
You can get in auto-pilot after seven years in a relationship. I guess you can go into auto-pilot with any friend you’ve known forever, or with your family. You can start to assume you know what the person’s every move is going to be and how they are going to act in any given situation. Julian and I do it to each other. For instance, the other day I was getting into the driver’s seat and Julian said, “Here, let me drive, you don't like to drive at this time of day.” It's true, I don't really like to drive at that time of day because there are too many cars, but I stood there holding the keys thinking, 'Well maybe I do like to drive at this time of day now.' I thought about it for a second, handed him the keys and got in the passenger seat. I sat there thinking about how fine the line is between knowing someone really well and sort of putting them in a box.
It's really good when something happens that shakes the world up enough that the box you had your person in just flies out of the picture.
That happened to me, big time, at the United Nations Climate Negotiations in Durban, South Africa.
As soon as we got on the other side of security at the conference center, we looked at each other and together took a big sigh of relief. We had rushed over from a workshop we had held that morning to get inside the conference hall before security caught wind of the rally that was planned that day inside the negotiations hall. Julian was slated to emcee the rally, and it was critical that we make it inside before security stopped letting people in.
It was the last day of the climate conference and the negotiations were going poorly. Big polluting countries, like the United States and Canada, were refusing to sign a binding treaty, and it looked like we'd leave these talks without an agreement on how to deal with rising temperatures and oceans, displaced people across the world, and rampant food and water shortages. It wasn't fair. And 350.org was willing to lead the charge to bring the voices of the people, who were calling for a binding deal, into the halls so the decision makers could hear us. That's what the rally was about.
The rally plan: At 12:15 people would gather in the main atrium of the conference center. It was sort of like a flash mob. People would stand around and mingle, acting like nothing was going on, until they got the sign, then everyone would start marching down the hall to the doors of the room where all the closed-to-the-public formal proceedings were taking place. There was a long list of speakers, including government leaders from threatened island nations, and leaders of major NGOs like Greenpeace, who would take the floor once we marched down the hall. The sign that was going to initiate the march was ... Julian's voice. Borrowing from the Occupy Movement, Julian was going to “mic check” the crowd. That meant we didn't need amplification, because whatever Julian yelled would be repeated by the crowd in unison so that everyone could hear.
I was milling about in the overcrowded hallway, trying to appear relaxed. Julian was wandering around innocently, and rally coordinators would pass him and mutter instructions in his ear. The rally was ten minutes behind schedule, and I started to wonder if the plan had changed. My nervous energy was taking me in large figure eights around the atrium. A woman stopped me mid-eight and said casually, “There is an undercover cop following you. She’s been following you for ten minutes.” I must have looked suspicious. My heart stopped. The anonymous messenger blended back into the crowd and I found a wall to lean against. I took out my cell phone and pretended to send text messages. My hands were shaking. I told myself to take four deep breaths and to look normal doing it. On my third breath I heard him.
“Mic check!” Julian's voice blasted through the conference center. The crowd, like booming thunder, screamed back, “MIC CHECK!” There was no turning back. Things moved fast. What was a room with people scattered about, became a room with two or three hundred people funneling into formation. Immediately the security formed a blockade and stood inches from Julian's face as he, sentence by sentence, began yelling about why we were all here today.
Julian and I have worked on a lot of political projects together. I know him to be non-confrontational. I know him to be the peacemaker. I know him to the be the comic relief. That was the box I had assembled around Julian -- that is, until the moment I looked up at him and saw him surrounded by cameras and hundreds of people repeating his words. His face was contorted, his eyes focused, the tendons in his neck flexed. I could see that the words coming out of his mouth were from the deep, deep bottom of his heart, and were the truest in the truest sense possible.
“We are here today for the people who can’t be here!”
“We are here for the people who will suffer under the weight of climate change!”
“We are here today for AFRICA!”
“We are here today for the island nations!”
“We are here today for the world!”
“We are here to say: listen to the people, NOT the polluters!”
“We are here today to support those who are inside who are still fighting for a REAL climate deal!”
The crowd cheered wildly. Julian didn't smile. He eyes were steady. You could see his heart pounding through every inch of his body. He held the space for the crowd, standing face to face with the security. I could see he was not leaving until he was kicked out. He told the crowd we would move peacefully around the security guards and down to the decision-making room. The crowd heard him, and moved their bodies step-by-step.
I slowly moved my feet. I looked down at my chest to see if my heart was still beating or if had stopped forever. My hands were shaking like crazy. He was miles and miles out of the box of comic relief and my entire body recognized that.
Thirty of us got our conference badges revoked and were thrown out that afternoon. I stood across from Julian in a park outside the conference hall. I touched his cheeks with both my hands. He hugged me, patted my back and said, “I really got serious in there.” I buried my head in his shoulder, “I love you...a lot,” I said.
This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.
Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX
Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.